29 Οκτωβρίου 2014

I) The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here II) Crisis: Are U.S.-Israeli Relations Really Doomed? III) U.S.-Israeli Relations: Don't Call It a Crisis and IV) Sino-Israeli economic and strategic ties growing.



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I
The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here

The Obama administration's anger is "red-hot" over Israel's settlement policies, and the Netanyahu government openly expresses contempt for Obama's understanding of the Middle East. Profound changes in the relationship may be coming.
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The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname.
This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. The relationship between these two administrations— dual guarantors of the putatively “unbreakable” bond between the U.S. and Israel—is now the worst it's ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections. By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program.
The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet. Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached. For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.
Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”
I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”
This assessment represents a momentous shift in the way the Obama administration sees Netanyahu. In 2010, and again in 2012, administration officials were convinced that Netanyahu and his then-defense minister, the cowboyish ex-commando Ehud Barak, were readying a strike on Iran. To be sure, the Obama administration used the threat of an Israeli strike in a calculated way to convince its allies (and some of its adversaries) to line up behind what turned out to be an effective sanctions regime. But the fear inside the White House of a preemptive attack (or preventative attack, to put it more accurately) was real and palpable—as was the fear of dissenters inside Netanyahu’s Cabinet, and at Israel Defense Forces headquarters. At U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, analysts kept careful track of weather patterns and of the waxing and waning moon over Iran, trying to predict the exact night of the coming Israeli attack.
Today, there are few such fears. “The feeling now is that Bibi’s bluffing,” this second official said. “He’s not Begin at Osirak,” the official added, referring to the successful 1981 Israeli Air Force raid ordered by the ex-prime minister on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
The belief that Netanyahu’s threat to strike is now an empty one has given U.S. officials room to breathe in their ongoing negotiations with Iran. You might think that this new understanding of Netanyahu as a hyper-cautious leader would make the administration somewhat grateful. Sober-minded Middle East leaders are not so easy to come by these days, after all. But on a number of other issues, Netanyahu does not seem sufficiently sober-minded.
Another manifestation of his chicken-shittedness, in the view of Obama administration officials, is his near-pathological desire for career-preservation. Netanyahu’s government has in recent days gone out of its way to a) let the world know that it will quicken the pace of apartment-building in disputed areas of East Jerusalem; and b) let everyone know of its contempt for the Obama administration and its understanding of the Middle East. Settlement expansion, and the insertion of right-wing Jewish settlers into Arab areas of East Jerusalem, are clear signals by Netanyahu to his political base, in advance of possible elections next year, that he is still with them, despite his rhetorical commitment to a two-state solution. The public criticism of Obama policies is simultaneously heartfelt, and also designed to mobilize the base.
Just yesterday, Netanyahu criticized those who condemn Israeli expansion plans in East Jerusalem as “disconnected from reality.” This statement was clearly directed at the State Department, whose spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, had earlier said that, “if Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions. Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”
It is the Netanyahu government that appears to be disconnected from reality. Jerusalem is on the verge of exploding into a third Palestinian uprising. It is true that Jews have a moral right to live anywhere they want in Jerusalem, their holiest city. It is also true that a mature government understands that not all rights have to be exercised simultaneously. Palestinians believe, not without reason, that the goal of planting Jewish residents in all-Arab neighborhoods is not integration, but domination—to make it as difficult as possible for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem to ever emerge.
Unlike the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, I don’t have any hope for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state (it could be dangerous, at this chaotic moment in Middle East history, when the Arab-state system is in partial collapse, to create an Arab state on the West Bank that could easily succumb to extremism), but I would also like to see Israel foster conditions on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem that would allow for the eventual birth of such a state. This is what the Obama administration wants (and also what Europe wants, and also, by the way, what many Israelis and American Jews want), and this issue sits at the core of the disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem.
Israel and the U.S., like all close allies, have disagreed from time to time on important issues. But I don’t remember such a period of sustained and mutual contempt. Much of the anger felt by Obama administration officials is rooted in the Netanyahu government’s periodic explosions of anti-American condescension. The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, in particular, has publicly castigated the Obama administration as naive, or worse, on matters related to U.S. policy in the Middle East. Last week, senior officials including Kerry (who was labeled as “obsessive” and “messianic” by Ya’alon) and Susan Rice, the national security advisor, refused to meet with Ya’alon on his trip to Washington, and it’s hard to blame them. (Kerry, the U.S. official most often targeted for criticism by right-wing Israeli politicians, is the only remaining figure of importance in the Obama administration who still believes that Netanyahu is capable of making bold compromises, which might explain why he’s been targeted.)
One of the more notable aspects of the current tension between Israel and the U.S. is the unease felt by mainstream American Jewish leaders about recent Israeli government behavior. “The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel, economically, militarily and politically,” Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me. (UPDATE: Foxman just e-mailed me this statement: "The quote is accurate, but the context is wrong. I was referring to what troubles this administration about Israel, not what troubles leaders in the American Jewish community.")
What does all this unhappiness mean for the near future? For one thing, it means that Netanyahu—who has preemptively “written off” the Obama administration—will almost certainly have a harder time than usual making his case against a potentially weak Iran nuclear deal, once he realizes that writing off the administration was an unwise thing to do.
This also means that the post-November White House will be much less interested in defending Israel from hostile resolutions at the United Nations, where Israel is regularly scapegoated. The Obama administration may be looking to make Israel pay direct costs for its settlement policies.
Next year, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will quite possibly seek full UN recognition for Palestine. I imagine that the U.S. will still try to block such a move in the Security Council, but it might do so by helping to craft a stridently anti-settlement resolution in its place. Such a resolution would isolate Israel from the international community.
It would also be unsurprising, post-November, to see the Obama administration take a step Netanyahu is loath to see it take: a public, full lay-down of the administration’s vision for a two-state solution, including maps delineating Israel’s borders. These borders, to Netanyahu's horror, would be based on 1967 lines, with significant West Bank settlement blocs attached to Israel in exchange for swapped land elsewhere. Such a lay-down would make explicit to Israel what the U.S. expects of it.
Netanyahu, and the even more hawkish ministers around him, seem to have decided that their short-term political futures rest on a platform that can be boiled down to this formula: “The whole world is against us. Only we can protect Israel from what’s coming.” For an Israeli public traumatized by Hamas violence and anti-Semitism, and by fear that the chaos and brutality of the Arab world will one day sweep over them, this formula has its charms.
But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster.
Jeffrey Goldberg - Πηγή: The Atlantic

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II
Crisis: Are U.S.-Israeli Relations Really Doomed?

If there wasn’t a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations before the appearance of Jeffrey Goldberg’s explosive new article in the Atlantic [I], then there is one now.
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If there wasn’t a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations before the appearance of Jeffrey Goldberg’s explosive new article in the Atlantic [I], then there is one now. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long chafed at President Obama’s strictures about pursuing a Middle East peace, and Obama, in turn, has made no secret of his disdain for the rebarbative Israeli leader. But there was little evidence that the emotional rift between the two sides was of much real or practical consequence. Goldberg, however, says that it is. He holds out the prospect that the Obama administration will engage in a “showdown” with Netanyahu over Iran, will soon refuse to side with Israel at the United Nations, and, not least, will lay out its own peace plan that includes specific maps “delineating Israel’s borders.”
To a degree that Israel’s critics—and they are legion—have always been reluctant to acknowledge, the relations between Jerusalem and Washington have never been without tensions. When push came to shove, various presidents pursued what they saw as the American national interest, whether it was sending fighter jets to Saudi Arabia during the Carter administration, or punting on bombing Iran during the Bush administration. (Contrary to popular mythology, George W. Bush was also not acting at the behest of Israel when he invaded Iraq. Quite the contrary.)
For his part, Goldberg apportions much of the blame for the whole shemozzle between the two partners on the junior one. According to Goldberg, “Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has ‘written off’ the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached.” Meanwhile, Obama officials are livid at Netanyahu for approving new settlements in the West Bank and for his snubs of Secretary of State John Kerry, who valiantly attempted, against all the odds, to reach some kind of deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, Obama officials have apparently concluded that Netanyahu lacks the cojones to attack Iran—he’s all hat and no cattle. Netanyahu’s caution on Iran, we are told, may seem laudable, but it is actually of a piece with his craven desire to appease various right-wing constituencies at home with increased settlement activities. Mainstream Jewish organizations, Goldberg reports, are concerned: “The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel, economically, militarily and politically,” he was told by Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League.
What does all this add up to?
Goldberg indicates that he would like to “see Israel foster conditions on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem that would allow for the eventual birth of such a state.” It would be hard to disagree. But at a moment when the Middle East is aflame, it would seem an inopportune moment to pressure Israel into a peace process. But the real apprehension is that the Netanyahu government—which Goldberg refers to as “disconnected from reality”—is sabotaging, persistently, any efforts at an accommodation with the Palestinians, which is to say that it prefers war-war to jaw-jaw. The result would be isolation from the Western democracies.
Already, western Europe is beginning to treat Israel as an international pariah state. Whether a similar movement would take place in the United States, however, is an open question. Netanyahu is likely banking on a Republican House and Senate with a Republican president as his trifecta. It’s also the case that Hillary Clinton is unlikely to repeat Obama’s tough love act with Israel should she become president in 2014.
So in the next two years, Netanyahu can continue to do what he has done for the past six—attempt to perform an end-run around Obama. From the outset, he seems to have decided to outwait Obama. Maybe his strategy will be more successful than Goldberg would appear to believe, and Netanyahu is hedgehog to Obama’s fox. Goldberg says that Netanyahu’s approach is leading in the direction of Israel as a garrison state, a state of affairs that for Israelis, until now largely passive witnesses to the internecine warfare on their borders, “has its charms. But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster.” For now, this conclusion deserves what’s known as a Scottish verdict—not proven.
Jacob Heilbrunn -Πηγή: The National Interest

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III
U.S.-Israeli Relations: Don't Call It a Crisis

A piece by Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic bearing the title “The Crisis in U.S.-Israeli Relations is Officially Here” [I] has elicited much comment, including from colleagues at The National Interest [II]. Goldberg has performed a useful service in at least two respects. One is that his piece highlights how friction in the U.S.-Israeli relationship is primarily an epiphenomenon of an Israeli policy trajectory that is detrimental to Israel itself—no matter what U.S. officials may or may not say about the policies, publicly or privately—and not only detrimental to others. In commenting, for example, on the latest insertion of right-wing Jewish settlers into Arab areas of East Jerusalem—which many Palestinians unsurprisingly see as another step in de-Palestinianizing East Jerusalem so much that it could not become capital of a Palestinian state—Goldberg writes, “It is the Netanyahu government that appears to be disconnected from reality. Jerusalem is on the verge of exploding into a third Palestinian uprising.” He's right about the potential for a new intifada, one that could emerge spontaneously from bottled-up frustration and anger and would not need to be ordered or directed by anyone.
Another service by Goldberg is to portray the relationship far more realistically than one would conclude from the boilerplate that both governments routinely serve up about supposedly unshakeable ties between close, bosom-buddy allies. The fact is that the interests that this Israeli government pursues (not to be confused with fundamental, long-term interests of Israel and Israelis generally) are in sharp and substantial conflict with U.S. interests. No amount of pablum from official spokespersons can hide that fact.
For both these reasons, Goldberg's article deserves a wide readership.
The most recent expressions that reflect the true nature of the relationship are not just a matter of unnamed U.S. officials mouthing off. Goldberg notes in the third sentence of his piece that the comments he is reporting are “representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli [emphasis added] officials now talk about each other behind closed doors.” So the barbed tongues extend in both directions, but with two differences. One is that in this relationship the United States is the giver (of many billions in aid, and much political cover in international organizations) and Israel is the taker; harsh comments are far harder to justify when they are directed by an ungrateful beneficiary to its patron rather than the other way around. The other difference is that Israeli leaders insult the United States not just through anonymous comments to journalists but also publicly and openly; the current Israeli defense minister is one of the more recent and blatant practitioners of this.
One can legitimately question some of the particular accusations by the U.S. officials that Goldberg reports, not to mention the scatological and indecorous terminology employed. But to concentrate on this is to overlook the larger and far more important contours of the relationship. The most fundamental truth about the relationship is that, notwithstanding routine references to Israel as an “ally,” it is not an ally of the United States beyond being the recipient of all that U.S. material and political largesse. An ally is someone who offers something comparably significant and useful in return, particularly on security matters. That this is not true of Israel's relationship with the United States is underscored by the priority that the United States has placed, during some of its own past conflicts in the Middle East such as Operation Desert Storm, on Israel not getting involved because such involvement would be a liability, not an asset.
The core policy around which much of this Israeli government's other behavior revolves, and which defines Israel in the eyes of much of the rest of the world, is the unending occupation of conquered territory under a practice of Israel never defining its own borders and thus never permitting political rights to Palestinians under either a two-state or a one-state formula. This policy is directly contrary to U.S. interests in multiple respects, not least in that the United States through its close association with Israel shares in the resulting widespread antagonism and opprobrium.
One of the biggest and most recent U.S. foreign policy endeavors is the negotiation of an agreement to restrict and monitor Iran's nuclear program to ensure it stays peaceful. Completion of an agreement would be a major accomplishment in the interest of nonproliferation and regional stability. The Israeli “ally” has been doing everything it can to sabotage the negotiations and prevent an agreement.
It is a fallacy to think that making nice to the Israeli government will get it to back off from its opposition. It is a fallacy because that government has shown it does not want any agreement with Iran no matter what the terms, and because it is dishonest in expressing its opposition. There certainly is genuine concern in Israel about the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon, but that is clearly not what is behind the Israeli government's opposition because the sort of agreement that is shaping up would make it markedly less likely, in terms of both Iranian motivations and capabilities, for Iran ever to make a nuclear weapon than would be the case with no agreement. That's the very purpose of the agreement. The Israeli government instead seeks to keep Iran permanently in diplomatic exile, precluding any cooperation between Iran and the United States on other issues (which would dilute Israel's claim to being the only worthwhile U.S. partner in the Middle East) and retaining the specter of Iran and a nuclear threat from it as the “real problem” in the Middle East supposedly more worthy of international attention than the occupation and unresolved plight of the Palestinians. These objectives, as well as the setback for the cause of nonproliferation that collapse of an agreement with Iran would entail, also are directly contrary to U.S. interests.
The best way to handle the implacable opposition to an Iranian deal from Netanyahu—who, according to Goldberg's reporting, has “written off” the Obama administration—is to write off Netanyahu and any hope that he could be brought around on the subject. Needed instead is to expose—to Israelis, as well as to members of Congress and other Americans—the fundamental dishonesty of Netanyahu's opposition. Maybe a useful step in doing that would be to bring back Netanyahu's cartoon bomb that he displayed at the Untied Nations General Assembly and point out how the preliminary agreement reached with Iran last year (and which the Israeli prime minister consistently denounced) has already drained the bomb and moved the Iranian program back from the lines that the Israeli prime minister drew with his red marker.
Calling Netanyahu to account certainly is not a sufficient condition to achieve political change in Israel, with its ever steeper rightward tilt, but it is probably a necessary condition. The state of the relationship with the United States is highly salient and highly important to many Israelis, but it will not be a driver of political change as long as it remains masked by all that boilerplate about how great the “alliance” is.
There are a couple of problems with the title of Goldberg's piece (which is probably the doing of an editor, not Goldberg). One is that there isn't “officially” a crisis. The fact that official statements continue to talk about a supposedly rosy relationship is part of what is, as explained above, wrong.
The other problem is that in this context the word crisis is a misnomer. The term usually indicates a potential for a big turn for the worse, especially the outbreak of a war between whatever two parties are experiencing a crisis. That's not what's involved here. The only reason the term crisis comes up regarding U.S.-Israeli relations is the fictional, deliberately inflated view of the relationship as something qualitatively different that ought to defy any of the usual rules that apply to any patron and client or to any bilateral relationship. Sweep aside the politically-driven fiction about two countries that supposedly have everything in common and nothing in conflict and instead deal with reality, and the concept of crisis does not arise at all. What you have instead is a bilateral relationship that is like many others the United States has, with some parallel interests and objectives along with other objectives that diverge—sometimes sharply—and with honest recognition of the latter being a normal part of business. Being honest and realistic is good for U.S. interests, and in this case it would be good for the long-term interests of Israel as well.
Paul Pillar - Πηγή: The National Interest


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IV
Sino-Israeli economic and strategic ties growing

China is expanding its economic interests in Israel. Its growing portfolio of holdings in high-tech startups, national infrastructure and core industries gives Beijing an expanded strategic presence in Israel.
In Europe, a move is under way to respond to the Palestinian BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) strategy. Some EU companies have withdrawn from Israel’s government bidding process to build private ports.
As for the United States, President Barack Obama warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent visit to Washington that, unless Israel stops building settlements and makes a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, it will lose U.S. support
China has seized the opportunity to fill the void left by the withdrawal of European business from Israel and the gap resulting from the anticipated reduction in U.S. support. China has no moral qualms about investing in Israel and by doing so is increasing its strategic presence. With the support of Netanyahu, China is moving full speed ahead.
Attracted by China’s huge market, its willingness to use state funds to encourage state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to invest abroad and its seat on the U.N. Security Council, Netanyahu has given top priority to expanding relations with Beijing.
Chinese SOEs, public institutions and private investors are acquiring large positions in key Israeli industries. In the process, China has gained unprecedented access to Israeli technology, innovation and business knowhow.
China needs all of these assets to modernize and transform its economy. It has found no better place than Israel — in its growing state of isolation — to meet its needs in these areas.
As Netanyahu said last December at a joint news conference with visiting Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi, “Our strengths complement one another. China has massive industrial and global reach. Israel has expertise in every area of high-tech.”
He left the obvious unsaid, allowing other nations to read between the lines.
Following Wang’s visit, Netanyahu publicly gave China relief from Israeli export licensing restrictions as an essential first step his government is taking to expand cooperation and trade.
In a followup to Netanyahu’s efforts, Israel’s National Cyber Bureau announced plans to include China in a Cyber Emergency Response Team to be created next year.
This is a significant step for Israel, a world leader in defeating cyber attacks, to take because China is a world leader in using cyber penetration of key industries and defense networks to benefit its companies and its defense sector.
As far as high technology is concerned, China has become a close second to the U.S. in the number of projects it is involved in that are co-managed by Israel’s Chief Scientist Office.
Israeli officials have said China will soon replace Europe as the second-leading source for investment in Israel’s high-tech sector, and could even replace the U.S. in the number one spot.
Israel already awarded the Red-Med mega-project — designed to connect the Red Sea to the Mediterranean coast by high-speed rail — to a Chinese firm. Another Chinese firm recently won the right to build a port at Ashod, the proposed terminal for the Red-Med rail scheme project.
The Red-Med project — a Chinese-built strategic alternative to using the Suez Canal — helps Beijing cement its presence in Israel for decades to come.
Netanyahu’s government sees Beijing’s participation in the project as a way to strengthen Sino-Israeli relations. Given China’s current reliance on the Suez Canal for its seaborne trade of goods bound for Europe, this is a plausible move.
In 2011, China gained a controlling interest in a major firm in Israel’s agrochemical sector on the back of $2.4 billion in investments by China National Chemical Corporation. Beijing has also gained access to Israeli nanotechnology via a joint venture between Tel Aviv and Tsinghua universities to operate a shared research center.
Washington is watching the growing embrace between Israel and China carefully. This is all the more the case as there have been increasing calls in Israel for it to revive its defense trade with China.
Israeli defense sales to China have lagged substantially ever since Washington’s strong objections forced Israel to cancel a $1.1 billion sale of a Phalcon early-warning aircraft to China back in 2000.
China pursues its interests abroad without regard to making moral judgments on what occurs in the countries it chooses to become involved in as investors (or as a trading partner). If the EU walks away from doing business with Israel, its companies will lose out while China’s will gain.
Robert Hardy - Πηγή: The Japan Times

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